Publish date:

Research Tips on Writing About Your Life

Writing about personal experiences presents special challenges. Here''s one of several tips from Bill Roorbach, author of Writing Life Stories: "Vague references hurt your writing. Find uses of recently, and references to generic objects and anonymous people, then get specific. When did it happen? What year and model was that car? Uncover the name of your mysterious neighbor. This sounds elementary, but even expert writers catch the
Author:

Have you tried to transfer your life story or your personal experiences to the page? Often that process is not as simple as it might seem. To ease the task, freshen your point of view, or awaken a memory. Memoirs and personal essays can always benefit from focused, detailed research, but research needn''t be the tedious, musty chore you recall from expository writing classes. Bill Roorbach, author of Writing Life Stories, offers help:

  1. Talk with people you know. The advantage to writing about your life is that you have the cast of characters, your family and friends, at your disposal. If your memory doesn''t serve you, or you never heard the full story of the skeleton in grandpa''s broom closet, try talking to the people who would know. It''s an easy way to begin giving your writing a solid foundation without formal research.
  2. Travel. As Roorbach says, almost any essay could benefit from a trip somewhere. Travel to interview someone. Revisit the neighborhood you''re describing from childhood. First-hand experience often beats abstract research for details and imagery.
  3. Name That Thing. Vague references hurt your writing. Find uses of recently, and references to generic objects and anonymous people, then get specific. When did it happen? What year and model was that car? Uncover the name of your mysterious neighbor. This sounds elementary, but even expert writers catch themselves glossing over the details.
  4. Let the government help you with public and private records. Look at your city and county government offices for property records, court records, probate records and police records. For restricted federal files, consider the Freedom of Information Act. For private records, uncover the information collections of cooperative people you know. Pictures, journals, scrapbooks, letters. Your more longwinded relatives will be eager to share this information with you.

As you track down these sources, you''ll likely find yourself remembering more details about a place or situation than when you started. As Roorbach points out: "Even the smallest exactitude can lead to greater revelation." The seeds for topic ideas, anecdotes, metaphors and writing structure often are in your "research" as well.

Read more about Writing Life Stories.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 5 New WDU Course, A New Webinar, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce five new WDU courses, a new webinar, and more!

NaNoWriMo: Making the Most of Community

NaNoWriMo: Making the Most of Community

Books, much like children, sometimes take a village. Let managing editor and fellow WriMo participant Moriah Richard give you tips for engaging with your online and in-person NaNoWriMo community.

From Script

Film and TV Show Reviews and Writing What You Know (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, Script contributor Tom Stempel reviews the latest in film and television show releases, an exclusive interview with Lamb screenwriter Sjón, and much more!

Why We Should Read Middle Grade Fiction as Adults

Why We Should Read Middle Grade Fiction as Adults

Young Adult fiction has surpassed its own demographic by being acceptable to read at any age. Why have we left middle grade fiction out of that equation? Here’s why we should be reading middle grade fiction as adults and as writers.

What Are the 6 Different Types of Editing?

What Are the 6 Different Types of Editing?

When you reach the editing phase of your manuscript, it's important to know what kind of editing you're looking for in particular. Author Tiffany Yates breaks down the 6 different types of editing.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Imayo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the imayo.

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Print or Online Article First Place Winner: "Surfacing an Aquatic Diaspora"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Print or Online Article First Place Winner: "Surfacing an Aquatic Diaspora"

Congratulations to Elaine Howley, first place winner in the Print or Online Article category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning article, "Surfacing an Aquatic Diaspora."

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Script (Stage Play or TV/Movie) First Place Winner: "Jaguar Woman"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Script (Stage Play or TV/Movie) First Place Winner: "Jaguar Woman"

Congratulations to Olga El, first place winner in the Script (Stage Play or TV/Movie) category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning TV Pilot script, "Jaguar Woman."

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Non-Rhyming Poetry First Place Winner: "won't you celebrate with me"

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Non-Rhyming Poetry First Place Winner: "won't you celebrate with me"

Congratulations to Nicole Adabunu, first place winner in the Non-Rhyming Poetry category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning poem, "won't you celebrate with me."